Community gains are making us believers
Recent exhilarating victories by community groups have us believing that great outcomes at the grassroots level can be accomplished if groups of individuals get together to build coalitions and do the hard work that needs to be done to achieve a goal.
This is nowhere more evident than in three recent wins by community groups. Two were victories for park space over sanitation uses and one will make it easier for children to learn.
Canal Park started as the vision of a small group of Tribeca and Hudson Square residents seven years ago. The story of how they discovered that the bleak traffic triangle at Canal and West Sts. was once a stately park, and how they were then able to get the city to re-create this historic park, is truly inspiring. The members of the ad-hoc Canal West Coalition dusted off original documents to discover that the park had never been legally de-mapped as parkland when it was taken over last century as a staging area for the construction of the Holland Tunnel. Of course, it took a lawsuit to convince the city and state of the righteousness of their cause. This eight-year effort prevailed and just two weeks ago the new park was officially opened.
Similarly, an organized effort by parents of P.S. 234 students, the schools principal, Community Board 1, and local politicians, led to an agreement to limit the construction noise across the street from the Tribeca school. In the face of community opposition, the developer, Ed Minskoff, reluctantly agreed to a quieter and more expensive plan because he had no other choice if he wanted to proceed.
On Gansevoort Peninsula, a park-advocacy group, Friends of Hudson River Park, last week won a huge victory in getting the city to settle their lawsuit over the drawn-out departure of the sanitation district garages from the peninsula. Under the Hudson River Park Act, sanitation was supposed to vacate the Village peninsula two years ago. The lawsuit settlement finally makes the city pay to stay on Gansevoort, and establishes a new vacate deadline of 2012. If sanitation stays there until 2012, a total of $21.5 million will be paid to the Hudson River Park Trust, with the money going to develop Gansevoort and other parts of the 5-mile-long park.
These gains should serve as inspiration for another potential battle in the Hudson River Park over Piers 25 and 26. The closing of the decaying Tribeca piers this month is bittersweet. We have been longtime advocates of the construction of the park and of the Tribeca plan, which has been refined many times in response to community concerns. We are thrilled this long-delayed project is finally funded, and moving. But we are sorry to see the community organizations leave the piers for three years and we share the concerns of many that the reopening will mark the end of the piers special homegrown feeling.
It is up to these groups and the thousands of people who have enjoyed their programs to remain vigilant during this design and construction phase and, after the reopening, to ensure the spirit of Piers 25 and 26 lives and grows, and that the piers remain open to community events in a renovated and functional, non-sterile park that gets better with time.
You can beat City Hall or at least get it to work with you and committed community groups do win sometimes. Tribeca pier lovers should have all the inspiration they will need.